SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance

Belorussia 1944 – Soviet General Staff Study

While reading “Belorussia 1944 – Soviet General Staff Study” translated and edited by David M. Glantz and Harold S. Orenstein I was as intrigued by the information discussed in the lead up to the operation as I was in the description of the operation that followed.  In particular, from my interest in Soviet Signals Intelligence in World War 2, was the passage on reconnaissance of the enemy which was inconsistent between the four fronts examined.  Of the four fronts examined in this study, 1st Baltic Front, 3rd Belorussian Front, 2nd Belorussian Front, and 1st Belorussian Front,   only two of the fronts have sections that discuss reconnaissance of the enemy, 1st Belorussian and 1st Baltic, and the information they identify in the section is significantly different.

The 1st Belorussian Front identifies that reconnaissance of the enemy has been ongoing for this operation since May and it identifies two means by which intelligence had been procured.  In particular, intelligence was gathered through imagery intelligence provided by 16th Air Army’s reconnaissance aviation and  ground reconnaissance.  It is stated that 400 night and daylight reconnaissance raids occurred during the preparatory period resulting in the a number of prisoners, documents, and weapons seized. (Page 56).  However these are the only means of intelligence discussed.

Significantly, 1st Baltic Front discusses the fact that “all types of reconnaissance” were utilized in the reconnaissance of the enemy prior to the operation, including ground reconnaissance to capture 18 prisoners, radio reconnaissance, air reconnaissance, and sound reconnaissance.  The resulting information from all these means of collection was consolidated at Front Headquarters and then plotted on a general intelligence map. From my perspective the passage on radio reconnaissance was interesting due to the lack of mention anywhere else.  “Radio reconnaissance (radiorazvedka) successfully detected enemy radio stations of Sixteenth Army in Ludza, the Third Panzer Army in Beshenkovichi, the X Army Corps in Rudnia, the I Army Corps in Borovukha, the IX Army Corps in Ulla, the LIII Army Corps in Vitebsk, the 87th Infantry Division in Skaby, etc” (Pg 30).

From reading this book, and in particular these passages, it is clear that reconnaissance of the enemy was a difficult and highly classified subject to discuss in the Soviet Army even post World War 2. The inconsistent manner in which the fronts discuss reconnaissance of the enemy and the means used to gather this information is telling.  My interpretation from this work, is that radio reconnaissance and sound reconnaissance were classified top secret and therefore not eligible for inclusion in a secret staff study where as aviation and ground reconnaissance were classified secret.

Interesting questions that remain unanswered in my mind include:

  1. Did every front have radio reconnaissance capabilities or were they an uplift provided prior to operations by Stavka?
  2. What unit conducted the radio reconnaissance, what were their capabilities, and when were they formed?
  3. Is radio reconnaissance mentioned in other soviet staff studies?

Ultimately the question is how effective was Soviet Radio Reconnaissance during World War 2 as it is a topic that largely remains in the shadows.

-A.R.-

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